“Getting overseas was the ultimate for everyone – to get closer to the action… just the idea of the excitement and adventure of it all.”
As we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th, Last Post Fund honours the pioneering women who served as members of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps. The CWAC was established during the Second World War as a non-combatant branch of the Canadian Armed Forces with the purpose of relieving servicemen needed to join Canada’s expanding combat effort.
The CWAC drew from pre-existing women’s organizations such as the Women’s Volunteer Reserve Corps, and was women’s first official integration into the Canadian armed forces. Although most CWAC’s (as they were popularly referred to) were ultimately assigned to roles traditional for women at that time – as secretaries, clerks, telephone operators, cooks and the like – others were able to train in disciplines not otherwise available to women, such as vehicle maintenance, ciphering and decoding. As they filled these essential military support positions, their male counterparts were “freed” to join the combat effort on the European front.
In August 1946, Canadian authorities deemed women’s services no longer necessary in peacetime and disbanded the Canadian Women’s Army Corps as well as the women’s services in the Air Force and Navy. During the 5 years of its operations, 21,624 Canadian women had served in the CWAC.
These trailblazers led the way for Canadian women to later serve at sea, in army service battalions, field ambulance units, and in air squadrons. Today, Canadian women serve in global operations ranging from peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance, to stability and security and peace-enforcement operations.
More broadly, CWAC’s paved the way for society’s changing view of women as primarily home-makers to one in which women played an increasingly active role in civic life, including military service. We owe the brave women of the CWAC a debt of gratitude for their patriotism, their service to their country and their role in changing gender stereotypes at home and abroad.
To learn more about the CWAC, read the Canadian War Museum’s Dispatch, The Canadian Women’s Army Corps 1941-1946
For more information on the modern role of servicewomen from the Canadian Dept. of National Defence, visit Women in the Canadian Armed Forces
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